3 more attempts before permanent encryption
“It has to be one of these.”
Mom and I huddled over a small black book. The pages were filled with scribbles and words. Some were underlined, others circled, others completely crossed out. The longer I stared at them the more jumbled they became, but the anagrammed ones stood out the most. I hesitated, my eyes bouncing between two possible choices before settling on one.
[email protected]@ay! It was underlined and circled.
“Are you sure?” Mom asked.
Far from it, but I didn’t say that. Instead, I pointed at the Ironkey flash drive stuck inside my laptop. “It’ll stay locked unless we try.”
Mom didn’t say anything. I turned back to the small rectangular window on my screen. I typed in the code. And waited.
2 more attempts until permanent encryption.
Mom breathed out a shaky sigh. I closed my eyes and held my face in my hands.
My Dad always said he loved us. But every year or two he would go back to the Philippines and stay for six months. We knew he was with his ex-wife and kids and Mom didn’t want to prevent him from seeing them. Sometimes he’d linger longer than usual.
I remember one time Mom threw Dad’s notebook, the black one where he kept all his important passwords and numbers, right at his head. Turned out, he kept the names and numbers of his many mistresses in there too. They got into a huge fight, but no matter how much they fought Mom never stopped him from leaving.
When he died in the Philippines, I was not surprised.
I was surprised by how many people showed up for the wake and funeral though.
The wake was held in a small cottage on his family’s property. I remember feeling stunned when I tried counting the number of people there. I knew Dad came from a large family and sure enough I was introduced to his various brothers, sisters and their many relations. His ex-wife and my step siblings were there too. However, all of them together didn’t fill half the line of people snaking out from the cottage where he lay.
We cut the line and took our seats. The casket took up the centre of the floor. I barely recognized the man inside. I knew death did things to the body, discolouration, rigor mortis, that sort of thing. But looking down at my Dad in his light linen shirt and brightly woven vest, I realized I’d never really known him.
People cried and wailed as they were supposed to at funerals. I was too numb to do the same.
Dad fancied himself an investor, but he didn’t put his money into stocks. Instead, he kept searching for the “next best thing.” He was sure it was right around the corner and all he had to do was get in on the ground floor and get rich. He lost a lot of money this way and whenever that happened Mom would just sigh and pick up more shifts. When he started talking about buying crypto in the mid-2000s, we didn’t pay much attention.
When Dad’s ex-wife learned that he left Mom the contents of his Ironkey in his Will, she immediately called us up.
“Do you think he has Bitcoin in there?”
Mom kept those conversations as short as possible.
“He never told me that,” Mom said.
“Well, he mentioned that he was investing in crypto for his kids.” Dad’s ex grew more insistent with each call, and while she made sure to include me whenever she mentioned “his kids”, I knew what she meant.
“His Will was clear,” Mom said. “As for what he kept in this thing, who knows.” But in the back of our minds, both Mom and I were excited. If Dad really bought Bitcoin and kept it in his Ironkey...
Dad's ex called us every day for two weeks.
“I know he bought Bitcoin. He bought it for the kids. He was investing in it for the kids.”
My step siblings and I are connected on Instagram. Sometimes I receive messages from them. I don’t message back.
When we first got the Ironkey we tried entering our names before moving onto Dad’s place of birth and the name of his first pet. But when we learned that Ironkey only gave ten chances before permanently encrypting the files, we turned to Dad’s black book.
Mom slapped the book onto my desk and pointed at a word circled in red. [email protected] An anagrammed mash-up of Mom's and my name.
I squinted at it. “Are you sure?”
“It has to be. He used the same one for his email.”
“I thought we already tried that one.”
“No, that was for his online banking.” Mom jabbed at the word again. “This has to be it.”
“Okay…” I swallowed, hesitating. The small window on my laptop brightened as I entered the code. I looked up at my Mom. A small bead of sweat trickled down the side of her head.
I clicked enter. We held our breaths.
1 more attempt until permanent encryption.
My bed creaked as Mom dropped onto it, cursing, and sobbing. I stood to get myself a glass of water and nearly threw it all up.
Dad owned a Gibson guitar which he played every evening after a hard day’s work. One day, I asked him if he could teach me how to play.
Dad’s face lit up with excitement. I was little at the time and seeing how I made him smile made me feel ten feet tall. He quickly sat me down and placed the instrument on my lap. With endless patience he guided my hands, taught me where to place my fingers and how to strum the strings.
It was fun at first, but as our lessons continued and I realized how hard it was to play Old MacDonald, I began to despair.
“Listen.” Dad set the guitar down and wiped my tears. “There’s no need to be upset. You are so smart and beautiful. You can do anything you put your mind to. But only if this is what you want to do.”
I told him I didn’t know if I wanted to play and our lesson ended early. Since then, my lessons were sporadic. I’d play the chords he taught me and, when he was around, Dad would teach me new ones. I didn’t practice regularly, and Dad would always harp on me to keep at it. But he was so happy to see me try that I don’t think he even cared.
When I finally played Old MacDonald from start to finish three years later, he looked so damn proud.
I don’t know how long I sat there. My screen would fade to black and I’d swipe the touchpad to bring it back to life. The words were always the same.
1 more attempt until permanent encryption.
Mom called Ironkey so many times over the past week, begging them to do something. The contents were part of the will. If Dad really had bitcoin in it there could be millions in there. Can’t the company do anything to open it for us? The answer was always the same.
“Those bastards!” Mom cried. “This is how they make their money. They’re heartless. Heartless!”
I heard Mom throw down the phone. For some time neither of us spoke. I flipped aimlessly through Dad’s book. At least it was something to do. Anything to keep my mind off the possible fortune we were about to lose.
Mom sighed. “Just let it go.”
There was nothing else to do but agree. I closed the window and was about to close Dad’s book when I noticed a word at the bottom of the page. There were no circles or underlines to indicate any importance. It was odd in its plainness. Clearly out of place.
I felt my throat catch.
“What are you doing?” Mom watched as I reopened the window to the Ironkey. A mix of panic, desperation and hope coloured her voice. “You only have one more try.”
I typed in the code and as I watched it appear on the screen I never felt more certain.
I checked it. Rechecked it. And hit enter.
Mom and I sat stunned. Then we began to scream.
“Oh my God honey you did it! You did it!” Mom threw her arms around me, jumping up and down.
With shaking fingers, I scrolled through the window. Most of the files were unnamed MP3 and JPEG files. I clicked one at random.
A photo popped up. I must have been eight at the time and Dad still had his long hair. We were seated on the bed with his guitar. He sat behind me showing me how to place my fingers on the strings. My body was draped awkwardly over the instrument, clearly more interested in making noise than actual music, but I was smiling. We were smiling.
“We can look through those later,” Mom said. “Keep scrolling.”
It was obvious when the e-wallet showed up.
My Dad held cryptocurrency, alright. But it wasn’t Bitcoin. Instead, they were obscure coins I never heard about.
“Do you think they’re worth more?” Mom asked. I started checking their values.
“Start with that one!”
I flipped to an empty page in Dad’s book, wrote down his holdings and checked each coin. There was excitement in Mom’s voice as she directed me, but as each coin was checked and the figures I added slowly climbed, her voice took on a desperate note. Some had value to them. Others were bankrupt. By the time I was finished Mom was deathly quiet.
“That’s it?” She tried to laugh. What came out was a puff of air. “That’s it?”
We stared at the figure I had written down. $20,000.00.
“Do you want me to transfer these to Dad’s account and have them converted?” I asked. My question seemed to spark Mom out of her thoughts because she straightened and began to pace.
“Yes,” she said. “Put it into the rest of the savings when it’s all done.” She was still pacing when I made the transfer request and closed the window.
The picture of me and Dad remained open. In the excitement to check the values of his coins I had forgotten to close it.
The words tumbled from my mouth, so soft and sudden I couldn’t believe I spoke.
“He loved us.”
Mom was already halfway out of my room. If she heard me, she didn’t turn.
Perhaps it was the stress. All the sleepless nights and the possibility of millions behind a single word. Perhaps it was the words themselves, ciphered when they really should have been said. Or perhaps it was the words that were left unsaid because we said them long ago and felt no need to repeat them.
It hurt when I raised my voice. “He loved us so much.”
Then I curled over and began to weep.